The short century
Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945 - 1994
Edited by Okwui Enwezor
Africa’s liberation movement was undoubtedly one of the most significant movements of the twentieth century, just as the abolition of slavery was in the preceding century. This large format book of some 500 pages - containing 244 colour and over 300 black and white illustrations - explores Africa’s creative impulses as her peoples broke the bonds of colonialism and apartheid in the last half of the twentieth century.
All areas of the performing and plastic arts are covered, with sections focussing on the fine arts (paintings, drawings, graphics, installations and sculptures), photography, literature, theatre, architecture, music and film. Accompanying the illustrations are essays by some of Africa’s most distinguished historians and social commentators, a detailed chronology of Africa’s political history and some 30 historical documents - speeches, essays and manifestos - that are considered landmarks in the history of Africa’s liberation movements.
In the ?art’ section, over 50 artists are presented to the reader, each with at least one reproduction of their work. They represent a broad range of styles and mediums, primarily paint on canvas but also photographs, collages and sculptures.
Not all have an immediate political content, but all share a common thread - an artistic freedom which asserts the artists’ identity. Nonetheless, I have to admit that at least half of the artists were completely unknown to me.
The following section is given over to photography. Twenty eight photographs over eight pages cover events and personalities of the liberation movement in South Africa. Many of these images are selected from Drum magazine’s archives. Other photographs depict African soldiers going to various theatres of the second world war on behalf of their imperial masters, an act often cited as pivotal to the development of the philosophy of independence. After all, if Africans were willing to fight for the free world against fascism, how could they be denied those very freedoms by the colonial powers? Historic photographs also show post-war nationalist leaders, independence celebrations and election scenes.
There is less of the spirit of independence within the disciplines of architecture, and with the possible exception of the Maghreb, less African innovation. As Nnamdi Elleh puts it, in an essay entitled ?Architecture and Nationalism in Africa 1945-94’, ?African architects, instead of exploring how precedents in African architecture can be applied to contemporary needs, are reproducing European inspired forms.?
That seems fair comment. Certainly, many newly independent African countries embarked on grandiose urban projects following Western architectural forms. Nmamdi Elleh points out that while there are African precedents to victory, or entry arches in many West African cultures, Ghana, the first sub-saharan African nation to gain independence, built an Independence Arch in Accra which would not be out of place in Rome, London or Paris.
Wolfgang Bender, a noted expert in popular African music forms, contributes an essay in the music section which neatly encapsulates many of the major musical styles so enthusiastically embraced by Africans across the continent. He focuses on five of the most influential styles, West African Highlife, Juju and AfroBeat, Congolese Rhumba and South African Township jive, as well as the lesser know Angolan semba orchestras and the Capo Verde Morna - a melancholic poetic singing style. Morna lyrics were adapted to political messages during the revolution of the mid-1970s.
It seems curious that Bender neglects to mention Zimbabwe’s chimurenga music. It is an electric adaptation of traditional Shona music whose main proponent, the singer Thomas Mapfumo (now in self-imposed exile in the US), was harassed and jailed by the Smith regime for his songs. Through skillful use of metaphor and allegory, his songs gave voice to those fighting for liberation. After independence, Mapfumo continued to be a vocal critic of the government, speaking fearlessly against corruption and incompetence.
Literature and theatre
The next chapter of this book conjoins literature and theatre. It includes an extraordinary interview with Chinua Achebe by Obiora Udechukwu, and a perceptive essay by Chinweizu titled ?The Weapon of Culture’. There follows a dozen pages of photographs of various theatre productions and the covers of programmes and various classic African novels, plays and texts.
The final section is concerned with film. Mark Nash presents a history of cinema in Africa, from when it’s introduction with screenings of films in Cape Town, Cairo, Tunis and Fez before the turn of the century, through to the colonial period - when for the most part, Africans were forbidden to watch European and American films - until the colonialists turned the form into a propaganda tool.
In keeping with world-wide liberation philosophies emerged the ?Third Cinema’ concept. Third Cinema is described by Manthia Diawara in African Cinema Today as having three strands: socialist realist narratives; colonial confrontation and a return to the source. The latter strand sets out to prove the existence of a dynamic African culture and history before European colonisation, and that culture’s role in contributing to the solution of contemporary problems. Diawara contributes his own essay to the book which discusses many of the classic films made in Africa in the last five decades, and the author’s own decision to turn to the documentary and experimental film styles as ?appropriate media for continuing the discourse of decolonisation?. A dozen pages of illustrations, mainly stills taken from movies made between the early 60s and the late 90s, completes this final section.
The Assassination of Lumumba
By Ludo de Witte
When this book was first published in Dutch in September 1999, such was the public outcry over its contents that the Belgian parliament swiftly set up a Commission of Inquiry into the events it describes. The involvement of Belgium and the US governments in the brutal murder of Patrice Lumumba, the father of Congolese independence, has long been an open secret.
But author Ludo de Witte has succeeded in uncovering the evidence, to present a compelling case that Lumumba’s murder was on the instructions of the highest officials of the former colonialists.
Belgium had recognised that its hold over one of Africa’s richest colonies was coming under a direct threat from the rapid spread of nationalist ideas. However, the Belgian government was convinced that it could concede independence while retaining a behind-the-scenes control of power. When Lumumba was elected Prime Minister in the first post-independence government in May, they must have suspected that he may not be the compliant leader they had wished for. Any doubts vanished after Lumumba delivered an unscheduled speech at the June 30, 1960 handover of sovereignty ceremony.
Stunned by articulate denouement
Describing Belgium’s rule as a ?humiliating slavery imposed by brute force?, the Belgian monarch and assembled colonialists were stunned by Lumumba’s articulate denouement of the relentless exploitation and ruthless oppression that the Congolese peoples had endured.
Belgium still held two trump-cards after handing over independence. Firstly, Lumumba, although leading the largest political party with 33 seats in the 137-seat parliament, could only form a minority government by entering into a coalition with a dozen different political parties - ripe territory for sowing seeds of division.
Secondly, the Congolese army’s officer corps was heavily influenced by over 1,000 Belgian ?advisors’ who held more allegiance to the wishes of Brussels than the Congolese government.
Lumumba’s attempts to Africanise the military met with steadfast resistance from the officer corp, leading to an uprising throughout the country by the African ranks.
Pretext for intervention
This was the pretext for a Belgian intervention force of over 10,000 troops. That intervention saw the Congolese rebel soldiers in Katanga province disarmed by Belgian-led infantry and paratroopers, and Moise Tshombe (under the protection of Belgian soldiers and with no real Katangese support) proclaim Katanga’s independence. Katanga was of vital interest to the Belgian government, being the epicentre of their commercial interests - the exploitation of huge reserves of copper, cobalt, tin, uranium and zinc.
Lumumba severed diplomatic relations with Brussels and appealed to the United Nations for assistance, convinced that Belgium was intent on reimposing colonial rule. He also sought and Soviet military assistance, ringing alarm bells in Washington who dispatched CIA agents to the Congo to assassinate Lumumba.
Events continued to proceed at speed. On 5 September, President Kasavubu acting at the behest of US diplomats and Belgian political advisors, dismissed Lumumba from office in a move that had no constitutional validity - only parliament could dismiss a Prime Minister.
Lumumba responded with his own radio broadcast dismissing Kasavibu as President. Chaos ensued as parliament voted to annul both decisions.
Enter Mobutu into the impasse, then the Congo army’s Chief of Staff (but formerly Lumumba’s private secretary), who staged a coup. He promised a return to constitutional government at the end of the year.
Lumumba continued to live at the Prime Minister’s residence with a cordon of UN troops positioned outside to prevent his arrest and another cordon of Mobutu’s troops to prevent his escape. Lumumba’s supporters fled the capital to avoid a wave of political arrests, regrouping at Kisangani. In November, Lumumba decided to make a dash for freedom to join them, but he was detained on route by UN troops and handed over to Mobutu’s army.
Power sharing deal
Thrown into a military prison, Lumumba was offered a power-sharing deal by Kasavubu, which was refused on principal. Kasavubu then decided to send him by plane to the Katagan capital, Lubumbashi, where Tshombe held the reigns of power thanks to a heavy Belgian army presence.
Kasavubu’s decision was a virtual death sentence. On arrival, Lumumba and his two colleagues, Mpolo and Okito, already severely beaten on the flight, were taken to a small farmhouse on the outskirts of town, tortured by both Katangese officials and Belgian mercenaries and shot dead.
Their bodies were disposed of in a nearby forest. In a macabre post-script, hoping to eliminate evidence of these dreadful deeds, the assassins returned to the forest graves, disintered the bodies, hacked them to pieces and attempted to dispose of them.
So ended the life of one of Africa’s most charismatic political martyrs and liberation leaders, to this day recognised as a hero of the African independence movement. By all accounts, Lumumba displayed steadfast dignity and courage in enduring vicious beatings and the sure knowledge that he would die.
After trawling through official Belgian, US government and UN archives, and tracking down and interviewing surviving participants, Ludo de Witte has painstakingly amassed evidence of the appaling crime.
Clearly, guilt lies in a number of quarters : the Belgian government’s downright deceit, hypocrisy, brutality and betrayal; the UN’s leadership’s stunning complicity in super-power machinations (in blatant contradiction to its charter and mandate) and Lumumba’s Congolese political opponent’s treachery.
The Journey is the Destination
The Journals of Dan Eldon
Edited by Kathy Eldon
£25 Booth-Clibborn Editions
Dan Eldon was just 22 years old when he died, in 1983, at the hands of a Somali mob in Mogadishu reacting to the UN bombings of General Aideid’s headquarters. This book is a collection of selected pages of some of the 17 journals he kept in a short but action-packed life.
Born in London to American and British parents, he moved to Nairobi when just 7years old, where he spent most of his childhood. At Nairobi’s International School, he had a broad circle of friends of many expatriate nationalities, as well as close friends from within the Masaai community who lived close to his parents home.
When his parents’ marriage collapsed, his mother (who edited this book) returned to London.
Dan however moved to the US and had a stint as a junior designer on a magazine. This was a natural move, as he had always had a creative drive that his mother ascribes to an early decision to place him in a Rudolph Steiner school for his primary education.
Returning to Kenya just a few months later, Dan bought a second-hand Land-Rover, named ?Deziree’, and set off on a trans-Africa safari through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.
He parted company with his two friends at Victoria Falls and proceeded through South Africa to Cape Town alone, on many occasions taking advantage of what he describes as the ?hospitality of South African jails.?
This journey left a lasting impression, particularly the scenes of thousands of Mozambiqan refugees in a camp in Malawi. After the safari, Dan travelled to Berlin to witness the fall of the Berlin Wall before travelling on to California and enrolling in college.
Whilst still at college he founded a charity, Student Transport Aid, raised $17,000 and returned to Africa with a dozen companions.
The objective was to re-visit that refugee camp where the group donated a vehicle to the Save the Children Fund, gave money for two wells to be dug and purchased blankets and tools for the refugees. Dan then set off on a series of travels that took him to Japan, Moscow and Morocco before returning to Kenya.
Back in East Africa, while working on a film-set, he heard rumours of a famine in Baidoa, Somalia. Together with a friend working for a US newspaper he set off north to investigate. Many of his photographs made the front pages of newspapers across the world, and he began to devote his time to photo-journalism, returning to Somalia on frequent occasions for the Reuters news agency.
On 12 July 1993 in Mogadishu, with two fellow Reuters correspondents, Anthony Macharia and Hos Maira, and Hansi Krauss of AP, he met his death.
First published as a limited edition in 1997, this book has been reissued to coincide with the release of a feature film being made by Kathy Eldon of her son’s life. Dan Eldon’s gift for assembling photographs, drawings, words, maps, news-clippings, scraps of documents, foodwrappers - in short ephemera - documents a passionate life of travel, his love for beautiful women, his despair at witnessing war’s horrors, a deep streak of rebellion, and a wonderfully irreverent sense of humour.
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